ORLANDO – Congressman Anthony Weiner’s lewd Twitter photo.
The Casey Anthony trial.
President Obama’s poll ratings.
There were plenty of lead stories carried by newspapers and television stations on Monday, but one story struggled to gain traction. It was a news item from the U.S. Military, reporting that attacks in Baghdad and Tikrit had killed at least 16 people, including five U.S. soldiers. It was one of the most deadly attacks on U.S. forces in a while.
Fernando Valverde read about it. The resident of Poinciana is himself a veteran, having served two years in the Army and six in the Air Force. He’s also a member of the Veterans Club of Solivita and has volunteered to help with its Support Our Troops Program. And he admits that it saddens and frustrates him when reports of casualties among U.S. soldiers get pushed aside for details about a congressman’s lewd photo or how President Obama is polling in the 2012 presidential race.
“Unfortunately, they are portrayed not as U.S. troops, but NATO troops and part of the chain,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s not news anymore. The public attention is elsewhere. It’s a shame.”
Cathy Haynes feels the same way. She’s a member of Blue Star Mothers and numerous veterans and military organizations, and wishes the media would devote more attention to the critical role U.S. soliders play in Iraq and Afghanistan defending America’s freedoms and democratic values.
“Does it surprise me? No,” she said of the media coverage that all too quickly shifts away from deaths in Iraq. “I’m saddenied that we didn’t hear more circumstances about the situation. Any loss of our armed forces is very regretful, but I’m not surprised that the media doesn’t cover it. Being that it was in Iraq, I think people sort of forget that we still have a role in the stabilization of that country.”
Valverde said it’s also troubling to him that with Memorial Day come and gone, it’s even more challenging now to focus attention on the sacrifice being made by American soldiers. He hopes people start to think about our soldiers during some upcoming patriotic holidays.
“What can be done?” he asked. “We just had Memorial Day, and now we’re getting to July 4 and finally Veterans Day in November. But it’s a shame that the attention of the public is elsewhere. On Memorial Day, we looked back to the Civil War and World War I and World War II and Korea and Vietnam, but hardly anybody has covered the recent deaths overseas. Nobody is really pushing it.”
Haynes noted that another day of remembrance is coming up. June 14 is Flag Day, and there will be a special ceremony on Saturday in Winter Park in honor of it.
“This coming Saturday is a ceremony with flag retirements — flags that are no longer suitable to fly, whether they’re faded, tattered or torn,” she said. “Some people don’t realize that the most honorable way to dispose of a flag is not to toss it in the garage. There are proper, respectful ceremonies instead. There is burning, although some of us prefer to call it cremation.”
The event will be at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center at 1485 Grand Road, Winter Park. It begins at noon.
“In the past, they’ve had usually more than 4,000 flags that are officially retired,” Haynes said. “There’s a whole nice little ceremony that includes boy scouts and military, active and retired. It’s quite nice.”
Special events are one way to help refocus the public’s attention on the military, said Michelle Simoneau, director of business development for the Armed Forces Military Museum in Largo.
The museum represents one of the largest collections of military memorabilia in Florida, with a display of authentic artifacts ranging from World War II to the present day soldier. The 35,000-square-foot museum has a lot of extremely rare items covering different aspects of military history.
“Our founder and president had a very large military collection and we started off with that, and since then we’ve had a lot of items donated to us,” Simoneau said. “Our mission basically is to preserve military history and to educate our current and future generations.”
Located at 2050 34th Way N. in Largo, the museum, not surprisingly, had quite a busy Memorial Day weekend.
“We were open on Memorial Day and we had a huge event,” Simoneau said. “We had some wonderful events with lots of families and kids here. We had a lot going on. It was wonderful.”
The museum also got very crowded, she added, more so than in 2010.
“We were slammed,” she said. ”We had 1,300 people. It was about double or tripple what we had last year.”
To help the public remember our military, Simoneau said the museum will hold a series of upcoming events that are educational, while also meant to pay tribute to our armed service members.
“We’re going to have a 9-11 event in September to recognize the anniversary of 9-11,” she said of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington D.C.. “We are planning on that. We also have an event hall called the Officer’s Club. It’s a small event hall that we rent out, and a lot of the veterans groups rent it and come in and we have programs throughout the year that are included in the price of admission.”
To learn more about the Armed Forces Military Museum, call 727-539-8371 or log on to www.armedforcesmuseum.com.
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